Below the article from Dutch IT-channel editor Dick Schievels, about how SMT and Splunk created value from machine data for Schiphol Airport. The original article is in dutch and can also be found on the website of Executive People.

 

Luggage System Schiphol gets an extra dimension

On its way to becoming one of the most innovative airports in the world, Schiphol Airport has had an extremely advanced baggage transport system since 2013. The baggage system is to Schiphol what the blood circulation is to you and me. The beating heart is formed by the process directors at the Baggage Control Center, who, nowadays, supported by Splunk, no longer primarily manage the system on technology but on process!

Bagage Handling System

Berry Arxhoek is Functional Coordinator of the Luggage Handling System at Schiphol Airport. Schiphol Airport facilitates resources, assets and services to handlers and airlines, he says. Handlers are separate companies that can be hired by airlines for the last bit of baggage handling between the conveyor belt and the aircraft. Schiphol facilitates, next to the baggage system, the buildings, the strips, the roads, the control tower, fire brigade and everything else.

Coming from NS Station Schiphol I walk to Berry’s office along a modern looking baggage hall. On a large poster on the outside, with the inscription ‘This is the most modern baggage hall in the world’, an explanation is given about robots that automatically load suitcases. Sorting machines that sort out baggage for a flight, and the shunting area where empty baggage carts wait for loading by a robot. If necessary, 4200 suitcases can be stored in a buffer.

70 million pieces of luggage

“That would be baggage hall South”, says Arxhoek, when I tell him what I saw. “This is the backbone that connects all our baggage halls, one of the last systems of our 70 MB project that was completed in 2013.” 70 MB means 70 million bags, so pieces of luggage. Schiphol Baggage transports luggage of passengers from check-in to the place where the airline (or handler) takes over again for the last stretch to the aircraft. In addition, the baggage handling of passengers making a stopover and switching at Schiphol in particular, is also an extensive process.

Splunk

“If you deliver a system after so many years, then you have certainly thought of how you want to use it, but you have to deal with continuous changes at the airport,” says Arxhoek  “This means that people regularly want to start using other KPIs and want to use the system in a different way than originally planned. That means that you have to adjust your systems regularly. Therefore we started to look for a solution which could do this quickly, based on different KPIs and by analyzing the vast amount of data that the system as a whole provides.”

At an exhibition, Arxhoek met Michiel Toes, CTO at SMT.  He was showing the relatively straightforward-looking Big Data Analysis Tool Splunk. Arxhoek about that meeting: “Based on his story, I took a closer look at it, because I thought: if it only works half as simple as he says, then we can make a huge efficiency improvement. We were allowed to do a sixty-day trial in our test environment, which is equal to our production environment.”

In no time at all, Arxhoek and his colleagues created some capacity dashboards, which provided insight into the used and available capacity of the system. “We were able to get started right away and the first things we produced could be used immediately.”

Operation

Splunk collects, indexes and correlates data in a searchable repository from which alerts, graphs, reports and dashboards can be generated. There are many systems that allow you to do something that looks like this, according to Arxhoek. “Excel, for example, also allows you to make sections and create graphs, but you must first collect the data yourself and then make it intelligible. You do this by bringing context to it, because only then you can use that data.

“Splunk installs software-based access points throughout the system that automatically extract data and transfer data from the equipment and software to Splunk’s analysis tool. That way you are no longer working on your operational system, because you pull everything into Splunk. Splunk can quickly establish correlations on the basis of this data. Suppose, for example, that I am collecting all my network data, then Splunk is already putting that data in a certain context.  That gives insight immediately. For example, if I search a log file for one specific suitcase, or an error, or whatever, then I immediately get to see a cross-section of what data has correlations.”

Smart Operations

Arxhoek’s department is on the operational side. “We partly do IT ourselves, but we still have a separate IT department that initiates everything in that area.” Schiphol is now working on the creation of a Smart Operations department”, Arxhoek points out. “We want to use all kinds of techniques and respond quickly to changes within the airport. Splunk fits in perfectly. If there is a question now, tomorrow I have a dashboard and insight into what has changed.”

“Smart operations also means that you want to keep improving yourself continuously, says Arxhoek. “You want to be able to quickly adapt to changes and to create insight into certain aspects of a process on-demand. We can do that with Splunk. Previously we managed on technical availability. It was determined that something was temporarily unavailable and the impact on the operational process was being examined. But you want to gain insight into that impact on the operation. You want to understand the processes. And we missed that before we used Splunk. ”

Profit?

What kind of profit does the use of Splunk bring to Schiphol Airport economically? Can Arxhoek give us an impression? “Previously we had an entire logistics department with capacity managers who made reports every week using Excel, all kinds of VB scripts and Excel databases. These reports are now automatically generated and sent. The people in our own logistics department indicate that they easily save one day a week.

That time can now be used to improve the process, the capacity or the service we provide. Furthermore, as I mentioned earlier, we have much more insight into the processes than before. Yet another advantage is the centralization of all data. In the past, a lot of data was generated by each system. This raw data was stored for seven days and then overwritten. We did have a management information system but that only consisted of aggregated data. All data that we now collect will be retained and can be consulted at any time to generate new insights.”

 

SMT

The collaboration around Splunk with SMT has been extremely pleasant, Arxhoek wishes to point out. “SMT is a party that keeps you well informed of the latest developments. They think along with what is needed and offer insight into how other parties in the market use Splunk. So they share their knowledge and invite you to training courses regularly. Occasionally they even visit you for a day to see if they can help, without charge. So to answer the question: what did this all bring? For us that’s quite a lot, I noticed.”

 

August 2017